The solar energy sector nearly doubled in 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Much of this growth comes as consumers and commercial businesses look to cut energy costs, turn to more sustainable sources of electricity and stretch to reach 100% clean energy by 2035.
As the third-largest residential solar installer in the U.S., I know firsthand how growth can provide both a wealth of opportunities and challenges. Like many industries we've been impacted by the pandemic, but in spite of this we've had a record number of installations and have turned what used to be growing pains into opportunities for a bright future.
As a technology leader, I know how hesitant business leaders can be to undergo stressful projects, but knowing how to get in front of growth to scale responsibly is critical for any organization. Here are a few lessons I've taken from my journey and how other leaders can rely on data to empower your business:
Soft Costs, Hard Problems
With all this demand and increase in installations, comes a lot of data tied to project management, accounting and other systems. While for many, solar installations might seem like a rather straightforward process, there are actually many different aspects of a project to be managed including design, utility company negotiations, permits, as well as loans, leases or other financing.
This also leads to a costly side of solar that is largely unseen – soft costs. These soft costs, which include expenses associated with customer acquisition, marketing, field labor, financing, inspection and permitting, typically comprise as much as 66% of the total cost of residential and commercial solar systems. And these costs can vary significantly in today's fragmented energy marketplace.
At Titan Solar Power, this put us in a situation where we were trying to manage costs to scale and grow our business, knowing our data and soft costs were linked, but not having direct visibility or a single data source to help better manage our operations.
Connecting disparate data
We had different systems for everything, from project management and file storage to accounting and others. Unfortunately, as we were growing it was becoming more and more cumbersome to share data across these systems, and we often found ourselves forced to add more labor just to patch the holes in these different systems along the way.
Without a single system we had to solve for all the different moving parts associated with solar installation, leaving us with inefficiencies across the entire company. With more than 420 different data fields required for every project, our homegrown project management system couldn’t scale with our growth which is when we knew it was time to upgrade to a unified cloud-based business applications suite like Oracle NetSuite.
So, with that being said, what can other companies like mine take away? Here are a few thoughts.
- Identify the core problem, not the symptom: When you're in the midst of growth it takes real effort to pause and identify where there are problems before your small issues become big ones with severe consequences. Symptoms may be self-evident long before you’re able to figure out what the underlying issue is. For example, as we were beginning to drown in data it became apparent that the underlying technology and the several systems we had in place were in fact failing us, leading to a myriad of challenges impacting us across the organization.
- New perspective can help you see better: Sometimes the best thing you can do when facing an internal challenge is solicit outside help. Sure, you may know your business the best, but you may also be too close to address those challenges you're facing. At Titan Solar, we realized we didn’t have the right technology platforms in place and turned to Blu Banyan's SolarSuccess, a SuiteApp built on NetSuite. With NetSuite and Blu Banyan, for the first time we had a unified view of data across the company including real-time insights into project status, costs and profitability, as well as inventory, pricing and purchasing.
- Use new growth to stress test your processes: Waiting for something to break is never the right approach when it comes to scaling or sustaining growth. While you may set aggressive growth targets, those are only achievable if your operations are running smoothly – no matter what external challenges may arise. Being proactive to see where you may have weaknesses in your technology, processes or operations will let you get ahead of any issues that make come up.
Looking towards a bright future
We have been able to grow significantly since the start of last year and we're on track for even greater growth. Having the technology in place to bring our data and operations into one place, from customer relationship management and accounting to inventory management and business intelligence has been critical to our ability to scale.
We're always looking to expand our footprint and keep up with demand in the market. I can't underscore enough how much having the right systems in place will enable your organization to manage data effectively, control cost, and better serve customers. At Titan, I know we're better off for it.
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